Sunday, August 29, 2010

How Visual Are YOU?

WriteOnCon hosted a wonderful vlog by Mary Kole, the literary agent who writes the blog awesome blog, by the way, for anyone who is interested.

Mary Kole spoke on stereotypical characters, and how often agents see that in submitted manuscripts. The worst thing, she says, that can happen in your writing is "Cliche"...that is, writing exactly what everyone else does. Writing dies with cliche. Think about it. Wouldn't you get so tired of reading stories if every single one you read featured a person of less than average size who is faced with a quest to destroy an amulet, or a ring, or a necklace of great power so that an evil dark lord will be finally destroyed and the MC's haven of peace will be left alone? Tolkien did it brilliantly. I'd hate to have to read a thousand books of a similar nature, with perhaps some or none of Tolkien's masterfulness.

The reason agents react so strongly (and usually negatively) toward stereotypical characters is because there is something "grating" about the familiar. An agent really likes to be surprised by the new and intriguing story.

This vlog was so nice, because Mary took us on a quick tour on how one can take a simple stereotype and change it into a character that is uniquely your own.

It's actually rather simple in a shockingly difficult way. Mary Kole did it this way. She took a stereotype, (and a Rubik's Cube), and demonstrated how to liven up a character.
The Rubik's Cube is all one colour, to demonstrate:
The Math Elite, a super-brilliant kid who only cares about her GPA, and who is a little bit socially stilted. (Boring, right?)

Now, Mary Kole livens it up by twisting one side of the Rubik's Cube: This teenage Math Elite, she doesn't really like math. Numbers are something that just come easily to her. It's actually not something she wants to do with the rest of her life. (The Rubik's Cube is still a little boring, but it's a bit more interesting now.)

Okay, back to some cliche:

The teen Math Elite usually has strict parents that really stifle and try to control. (We restrain a yawn. Geez, that old story, huh?)

Mary Cole twists another side of the Rubik's Cube:
What if the parents aren't strict? What if they're actually irresponsible hippies, and it's the teen's job to basically keep the house together? (We're feeling less sleepy now, and the Rubik's Cube is definitely looking more interesting.)

Mary twists another side of the Rubik's Cube:
What if the teen Math Elite just got a scholarship to a really great college, but she's not going to take it because what she really wants to do is open a record store in her hometown. (Hey, this might be a story worth reading.)

Mary keeps twisting that Rubik's Cube, and it's looking quite mixed up and lovely now:
What if the teen Elite, brilliant and pretty, with quite a future before her if she so desires to take it, is also dating a "bad boy"? (We're definitely getting a much more interesting story, and a conglomeration of subplots nicely mixing inside the main plot line.)

We're starting to have more of an idea about our MC now, her character, her secrets, all the fun stuff that makes her an actual living multi-faceted person instead of just a boring cliche.

From here, Mary puts the Rubik's Cube down. It has served it's purpose in creating a juicier storyline than the stereotype we started out with. (At the end of the vlog, though, she puts it to rights in about 20 seconds. Amazing. I digress, though...) Now she produces a list with words on the list that can help to clarify what makes any human being, and therefore any character, unique. These are a person's, or character's:

Relationships with other people or characters
Hopes for Future
Secret Pain
Secret Joy
Things they do in private
Things they do in public

Once your character has become more human, Mary provides a list of questions to ask yourself about every one of you characters as you're writing your story that will help give your character more depth. These are:

  • Your character has a box buried in the depths of her closet. What does it contain?
  • It's late at night, and your character can't sleep. Everyone else in the house is basically dead to the world and will not wake up even if your character plays drums in the living room. In that dark middle of the night, what will your character do?
  • As a kid, your character wanted to be "X" when she grew up, but then "Y" happened, and now she wants to be "Z". What happened, and why did it change her trajectory to "Z"?
  • What is your character's relationship to all the other characters in the story? When is the relationship easy? When is it complicated, and what complicates it? What is your character's primary conflict with the other characters in the story? How does the conflict change over the course of the story?
One of the greatest weapons in your writing arsenal is the element of surprise. For example, no character should always be the same flavour, like a single vanilla flavour. It's boring boring boring. Add a little chocolate. Much better, right? In the same way, don't make your characters always 100% good. Again, boring, boring, boring. We like our characters to have some flaws in them, because it makes them human and more relateable. If you add a little chocolate flavouring of cowardice or deceit or pride, it makes your character come alive.

In the same way, don't make your villains 100% flawed. They have to have some spark in there that can make them a little bit sympathetic to the reader. Add some vanilla to their mix.

If you can pull a moment where your reader is surprised and intrigued when a new facet of your character is revealed, it will pull your reader deeper into the story and deeper into caring for your character. However, no matter what kind of surprise you pull, don't lose the character of your character. Make sure that your character stays in the character you created for her. Reveal new "wrinkles" or flaws or sparks of light that were previously unknown, but don't completely present a false side of your character to your reader in order to justify a scene in your story, because you will lose faith with your reader.

From here, you are well on your way to creating a completely real character that is unique, personal, and has a true story to be shared with the world. There's nothing like this journey, where you can take a cliche and turn it into something so much better.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The voice of a story is like the voice of a singer who sings like he/she means the words. It is the heart and soul of a good piece of writing. Without a driving, unique voice, a voice that gives us the personality of the main character in a completely believable way, a story can be impossible to read.

In her blog at WriteOnCon, Elana Roth says this about voice: "Essentially, a voice is something to be listened to. The stronger the voice, the better it will be heard. And once you have it down, that’s all it takes for someone else to fall in love."

It's so true. Voice cannot really be explained. Voice is something that is inherently part of a good story. Without realising it, the voice is what makes a story sing along.

Voice, by the way, ISN'T how the main character speaks. Voice is the personal soul, the soul of the writer that is revealed through the words chosen to place on a page of white paper. Voice portrays the emotion, love, and tenderness of the writer who cares, really and truly, for the characters created. Voice is the passion that drives the reader on to care as much for the story as the writer does.

Voice is incredibly personal. A lot of what I think, feel, mean, and say is passed on to you, the reader, through the words of my creation, my main character. Voice is my heart, my innermost me, cut open and revealed, like a diamond that is so precious that I want to share it with you.

When you write, you want to keep the voice consistent, to keep it layered with more information that will keep the reader turning the pages. Every new chapter should reveal more facets to your character, each page should be consistent with the voice of the page before.

Be true to the voice that is inside you, waiting to be released. It's vague, and it's hard to understand. It's like the chemistry between two people. As Elana Roth says, "You know it when you see it, and you know it when you don’t feel it, but if you had to analyze the components of it, you’d be hard-pressed to find adequate evidence to point to."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Character Collage

So, this was one of my favourite topics that I listened to on WriteOnCon. It was a vlog by author Tera Lynn Childs, and it was fantastic, because I am a very visual person as well, and I really loved her suggestion with this one.

What you want to do, is make a collage of the character that is in your story. If you really are involved and have tons of time on your hands (which unfortunately, I do not), you can actually make a collage of ALL your characters including secondary characters, minor role characters, and villains. Actually, I would recommend doing the villain anyway; it's always nice to see who your hero is up against.

So for your collage, you make a "scrapbook page" of your character. Tera Lynn Childs suggests using catalogues, home magazines, and Lucky magazine, to find pictures of people, homes and furniture, and things that reflect your character's personality.

With a piece of white paper, you find a background image that will act as your background image for your page. I would recommend finding something that is a large, scenic picture of something, such as a beach, a sunset, a meadow, anything that your character particularly loves. Then, you look through your magazines for a picture of a person who reflects YOUR character. If you happen to be particularly artsy, I'd recommend drawing your own picture and using that. Then look for objects that your character might wear, or things that your character would use, such as purses, wallets, cars, instruments, anything that is uniquely your character.

For the last thing, Tera Lynn Childs recommends finding words or phrases that personify your character. You can use these words to present a final image of your character, to show the heart, as it were, of your character.

For me, I think this is an awesome way to preview your character. When you're stuck and aren't sure what your character actually WOULD do in a given circumstance, I could see how perfectly these would boost you through a writing slump. You'd look up and see your character on display, and you'd know instantly what they would or would not do.

Thank you, Tera Lynn, for giving me this idea. I think I'm going to make collages of my characters and frame them.....

Actually, I wonder how my sisters would like that? Heeheehee.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stars DON'T Twinkle!

WriteOnCon was fantastic. I got so much information that needs to be gone through and organized that my head is still spinning. There were some really fantastic posts, though. My favourites were the creative ways you can develop your character. One was by making your character a "scrapbook page" of what they look like, what kind of clothes they'd wear, what kind of house they'd live in, and all that good stuff. The other one was a list of questions to ask yourself, what your character would do in a given circumstance. They were very neat. I want to shake my characters so I know they're REAL and not stereotypes.

But actually, I wanted to write about the meteor shower I saw last night.

Three of my sisters and I stayed up until about 11:45 pm, because the peak of the shower was going to occur at around midnight. We made coffee and poured it into a thermos, grabbed some coffee cups and drove down to a lake called Regan Beach, where there were no lights shining and we had a grand vista. We pressed our faces against the windshield and stared up into the night.

This is when I really discovered it. Stars do NOT twinkle. Whoever said they did used a very weak verb to describe what stars actually do.

They flash, they glint, they shoot out sparks of fire when the wind moves them. Really, they do.

I stared up into the sky. The night was a cloth of black silk stretched taut in the sky, pulled so smoothly that there was no wrinkle. In the cloth the stars had been cast, some of them like diamond seeds, others looking like fine mica dust scattered across the silk. Some of the stars were faintly yellow, like golden diamonds. Others were fine chips of crystal, as refractile and perfect as faceted gems. And they danced with refracted light. Once in a while, one of the stars would shoot out a flash, as though it had caught the beam of some hidden light source, and the rest of the stars would quiver in awe.

In between the beauty of the static stars came the meteors, streaking the night with their brief white tails. From out of the darkness they shot past, drawing magic in the sky. One particularly fine meteor fell long and thickly, painting a white, brilliant line in the black and fired sky. It was amazing.

Then, I discovered stars dance. As I was straining my eyes, looking out for shooting stars, one particularly playful star caught my gaze and fixated me. As I watched, the little thing slipped from its place, began a sideways crawl back up, and then did a little skipparoo to the right then back to the left. All the other stars faded from my viion, leaving only this one performing star. You may try this yourself, if you doubt me. You might want to stay up until about one in the morning, because then your eyes are tired and ready for this exercise. But it was fascinating. I watched that little star for a couple minutes as it gamboled about the sky.

We stayed for about an hour, watching the stars perform. By the time we left we were pretty tired, and full of coffee, but jazzed at the spectacle.

I just wanted to share that moment with you--and to tell you, really, stars don't twinkle. Go check them out. Tell me what word you would describe. Myself, I would say stars ripple light.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I'm attending a wonderful online conference called WriteOnCon. It's fabulous. There are so many agents and editors on the loose over there, and eveyone is willing to answer questions.

There have been quite a few awesome topics posted. I'm thrilled to be getting all this information. I love being a writer.

This conference will be going on for three full days. Right now, the server is down a bit, so I'm not really able to get onto the actual site, but there are several different blogs posting all the good stuff.

I do hope I can get onto the site tomorrow, 'cause I'd love to be able to leave comments after the agents/authors/editors I really liked, but we'll see.

It's been fantastic though. Now, I'm going to take a break from the computer and just write. I'll see if I can organize the harried thoughts into a cool blog post in the next few days.

Oh, news update. There's going to be a meteor shower on Thursday, August 12, at around ten pm, in South Lake Tahoe, California. I'm going to be attending. One of the posts at WriteOnCon said to give myself permission to find inspiration anywhere. Well, I'm planning to be inspired on Thursday night.

Good night, all!
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